You can’t mention Bangalore to anyone in India without them at some stage saying, “Ah, garden city of Bangalore,” or “Very cool there, very nice.” I therefore sat on the train from Chennai to Bangalore, coaxing my lungs to get busy locating any oxygen molecules that might be hiding under the seats, reassuring them that deliverance was just hours away.
At 11.30am, we pulled into the station, and I hauled backpack, daypack and laptop down from the overhead luggage. Bring on the cool, I thought. Let me spin, Julie Andrews-style, in the soothing, green meadows of India’s Silicon Valley. Let my heart be filled with the sound of sitars. Let the result of the Test series be forgotten and the meaningless but vaguely entertaining one-dayers begin.
I stopped at the doorway of the train, drew in a deep breath, and almost burnt my tongue. “How hot is it?” I asked a station attendant.
“Thirty-six, maybe 37 degrees,” he said.
“I thought it was cooler here in Bangalore.”
He waved his arm across a blazing cement car park, and about 80 assembled autorickshaw drivers. “Yes, garden city. Very cool, very nice. But today summer in Bangalore.”
First one-day international, Chinnaswami Stadium, 6.30pm: I walked past a sign that said, “Ladies’ Stand, 300 rps” and over to the female cop on duty. “You are not a lady,” she said pointing to the sign. “Ladies only this stand.”
I explained that I was a member of the media and was hoping to do a story on the inaugural night for a ladies’ stand in India. She studied my pass carefully.
“Tony Wilson. Are you brother of Paul Wilson?”
If there was a moment that finally made me understand how much Indians love their cricket, this was it. This woman was asking whether I was related to the South Australian quick, Paul “Blocker” Wilson, who had played one Test and a few one-day internationals in 1998.
“No, my brother is Ned Wilson,” I replied. Ned only ever played for his school team, but the way she was going, it was worth a try.
“Men croak, ladies scream,” said Neha, explaining the shrieking effect that was being injected into the Mexican wave as it passed through the ladies’ stand. After two weeks of barely making eye contact with an Indian woman, suddenly there were 2000 of them on all sides, screaming, dancing, singing and flirting.
“You have a nice two dimples!” yelled one older woman in an elaborate mauve and green sari. Others joined in, pointing and laughing, and, suddenly, where I had least expected it, I was the woman in hot pants walking through Bay 13. I slunk into a seat next to Shaina, a quietly spoken Bangalori who in recent years has moved to Melbourne.
“A ladies’ stand is a great inno-vation here,” she explained. “For Indian women, it is very difficult because not everyone is Westernised. The expectation from many men is that we are supposed to sit quietly and watch the match and not scream. This stand helps them feel comfortable.”
At that point Harbhajan Singh came down to fine leg and the frequency of the shriek ascended to something just short of a dog whistle. “Harbhajan, Harbhajan, who is a big flirt!” a group of college students chanted, to which Harbhajan (who must have been struggling to remain mentally switched on at deep fine leg) responded by blowing kisses to the stand.
“Shane Warne blew us flying kisses also,” boasted Jessie, one of the cheerleaders. “The best thing about watching here is that, without the men, we are more free. We know more chants than the men do and we sing more songs. Everyone is together. Everyone is screaming, We have a lot of cooperation.”
Harbhajan fielded the ball, and the stand burst into a rendition of a Hindi love song from a recent Bollywood movie. It was called The Heart is Very Indian and it drew boos from a group of young men in the neighboring stand.
“We cheer, they boo us. They cheer, we boo them,” explained Jessie. “They are jealous because they don’t know the cheers. Men are basically sissies.”
A few rows back, I met Prathiba and her mother Larshmi, and got to ask some important questions about men and moustaches.
“The younger generation,” Prathiba explained, “we don’t like moustaches. They look so elderly. For my mother, though, she likes moustaches.”
It turned out Larshmi was the wife of a policeman, so her liking for the moustache was no surprise. From what I’d seen, moustaches and bamboo sticks were basically issued on day one at the academy.
“The best ever cricketing moustache is Kapil Dev,” said Larshmi, “then Anil Kumble from Bangalore, and then your Merv Hughes.”
“But Merv’s moustache was enormous,” I said.
We may have been getting thumped on the field, but that was no reason to lie down here.
“It was a good moustache, but I like a more sensible, smaller moustache. A moustache with more balance,” said Larshmi.
What was she saying? As if Merv’s moustache didn’t have balance. Sure, in recent years he has been reduced to doing advertisements for back pain, but that came as a result of toiling uphill and into the breeze for his country, not out of issues of “moustache balance”.
For her part, Prathiba screwed up her face and informed me that the only acceptable facial hair she had seen in recent times was Sourav Ganguly’s “french beard”. “Indian men should stop growing so many moustaches,” she said. “We can see with our eyes they are men.”
The last wicket fell to secure the Indian win and all around water (and water bottles) rained down from the heavens. “They give only us ladies water bottles because they know we won’t throw them,” laughed Baljeet. Either the theory had broken down, or the women had somehow smuggled their plas-tic bottles out to the men, so they could hurl them back in.
Baljeet, as it turned out, was the first person I spoke to who would have preferred to sit elsewhere.
“It is good because it is cheap (300 rupees – $A13 – instead of 1000 rupees), and the tickets did not run out as fast for this stand. But I would like to be out there with my husband. We have been married just one month, and I miss him.”
The girls around her made the very international sound of “Whooeaaa!”
“Are you married?” Baljeet asked.
“No, but I have a girlfriend called Tammy.”
“Cammie? Like match referee Cammie Smith?”
I explained that it was Tammy with a T, that she was a painter, and that she, like a good percentage of women in Australia, would have real trouble plucking the names of too many match referees.
“In India, ladies love cricket,” said Baljeet, before confessing that she did not know the names of too many match referees either. “Just Cammie Smith and Subba Row,” she said casually.